This much is clear: Somebody shut down a Thursday tea party gathering in the Russell Senate Office Building.
What is unclear is who it was and why.
It began like this: Freshman Republican Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) tried to convene a panel to discuss the findings of FreedomWorks’ 12-person Tea Party Debt Commission. FreedomWorks helpfully advertised the meeting as a hearing, which is exactly like an outside group saying that they are having an official Senate hearing, which turns out to be against the rules.
How do we know?
Well, we read the rules about Senate hearings and legislative meetings, which state: “Outside groups are not permitted to use Senate space to conduct events intended to simulate Congressional hearings or legislative meetings.”
So the Senate Rules Committee became uncomfortable with the event and decided to shut it down just after 1:11 p.m.
Meanwhile, reports circulated in the press that Capitol Police shut down the event because of a bomb scare.
According to the Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, spokeswoman for the Capitol police, there was a “report of a suspicious package” in Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Session’s office down the hall. “As a security and life safety measure,” she tells HOH in an email, “the [US Capitol Police] evacuated the immediate area until we could determine that nothing hazardous was found.”
But this evacuation did not appear to include the FreedomWorks hearing room, which was cleared out about 20 minutes earlier.
In a video of the brouhaha posted to YouTube, Lee is seen adamantly objecting to the group being expelled, but his office told HOH today that the Senator himself decided to move the meeting off campus in an “abundance of caution.”
So either Lee or the Rules Committee or the Capitol Police wanted FreedomWorks off the property. Or maybe it was a conspiracy to make the hearing newsworthy.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.